November 21, 2009

Written in Skin

"Lord my body has been a good friend / but I won't need it when I reach the end."
--Cat Stevens

We cannot shed our bodies, like clothes, at the end of the day. They're always with us ... until they're not. However, those of us who have been fortunate enough to enjoy relative good health and physical ability often take our bodies for granted. We assume they will always be there, like Stevens' "good friend."

I've been thinking a lot about death lately. Having attended several funerals over the past few years, some of them the result of tragic, untimely deaths of friends and relatives, I have become more and more aware of a spiritual void in my life. When someone close to me dies, I find myself flailing without a filter, dodging a lot of thoughts and emotions that I can avoid facing on a normal day. I envy those who have some form of faith to turn to during these times. Words and rituals that offer solace.

Funerals rarely do this for me--at least traditional North American memorial services. We tend to wear primarily black and opt for summary, anecdotes, silence, a somber song, choked tears. I always feel the inappropriate urge to laugh, or scream, or chant, or dance, or moan. I desire a ritual around death that doesn't appear to exist in my immediate surroundings. I want to sing a dirge, but I don't know the words. I feel the need for something more authentic and of the earth than stark funeral homes, rows of mourners, caskets, and one-dimensional photos of the deceased.

The deceased. Passed away. I desire a new language for the dead. Something less gentle and polite, more in tune with the raw, heaving experience of loss. At the same time, there is also a place for silence. Something like the practice of the Liberal Friends of Quakerism, who gather in silent worship and speak only if/when they are moved to do so. I want to negotiate and understand quantum physics, the nature of energy transformation and the deceptive nature of solid material forms.

I believe I had a fleeting encounter with my grandmother after she died. I have had psychic readings and genuinely believed in them. I talk to the dead as if they can hear me. I talk to my own spirit (for lack of a better word) as if it exists outside of my body, an older and wiser entity than I. I realize that all of this could be a lie I tell myself. My own construction of comfort in the face of all that is unknowable.

In our chaotic and conflict-ridden world, I am grateful to have this freedom: to write these words without censorship, and to seek, articulate, and practice my own beliefs without persecution. Much like my body, this is something I have taken for granted most of my life.

Let this be an acknowledgement of gratitude, written in my skin.


  1. I really like this post, Melissa. Good thoughts to take away and mull over. Hmm...